Through The Vineyards: Getting To Know Sicilian Wines
If you are in love with Italian wine and yet haven’t given the Sicilians a chance, here’s everything you need to try
The island of Sicily on the Mediterranean Sea is at the foot of the Italian mainland, almost as if it has been kicked away from Italy geographically. The Sicilians would rather be considered Sicilians than Italians in any case. Sicily is known for the Sicilian sun, the wines, sandy beaches, Greek temples, astonishing and seriously fresh seafood and food culture and, of course, the Mafioso, who is ever present. And of course, Sicily’s favourite dessert: Cannoli. “Leave the gun, take the Cannoli” is one of my favourite lines from The GodFather movies.
Sicily should be part of everyone’s travel, wine, and food discovery destinations. So let’s get right to the wine. There are a few wine-producing regions within Sicily, some of the key ones would be Etna, Noto, Cerasuolo di Vittorio (having the highest quality classification), and Marsala which is famous for its fortified wines. There are more, but these can be considered the key regions for wine in Sicily.
It is believed that vines grew in Sicily even before mankind, because of fossils found near Mount Etna. The ancient Greeks introduced wine to Sicily, bringing with them their knowledge of viticulture, including the system of the growing vine in the Albarello format — low bush training of wines. This protects the vine from strong winds.
Wine is important to the Sicilians; almost 15 percent of their agricultural output is wine. They have quite a few of their own indigenous grape varieties, about a hundred, as well as international grape varieties. And while they make more white wine than red wine, it’s the reds that have given Sicily a solid footing on the world wine map in terms of quality.
The most important grape variety in Sicily is, without a doubt, Nero d’Avola. The grape variety produces big, full-bodied tannic wines that are high on fruit as well. This grape does particularly well in the region of Noto.
Perhaps Sicily’s finest wine is Etna Rosso, a light and delicate red wine made from Nerello Mascalese on the volcanic slopes of Etna. This is serious stuff with prices to match. Mount Etna, an active volcano, is a backdrop for the most iconic Sicilian vines. Here, high altitude vineyards planted mostly with Nerello Mascalese on volcanic soils made here have been compared to having the elegance and notoriety of the wines from Burgundy.
Frappato, another grape variety, is not so common, but gives you aromas and flavours of red berries and spice, and is one of the wines that go into the making of Cerasuolo di Vittoria. Carricante a white wine grape variety that’s also planted in Mount Etna, provides whites with a great acidity with citrusy lemon notes and perhaps a touch of orange rind (I love this in white wine these days) with the very best providing a minerality as well. The most widely planted white grape variety is Cataratto. It gives you fruit-forward wines with a seeming touch of honey-like flavours. Mostly blended with other whites and rarely found on its own.
A grape variety that we are all familiar with is Grillo, because like Nero d’Avola, it is also planted in India. A lovely, herbal white wine with floral notes that is dry with light to medium body and good acidity, just perfect for the fresh seafood so amply available in Sicily. It isn’t all local grape varieties. Chardonnay, Syrah, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon can be found in plenty too.
Sicily is also famous for sweet wines like Passito di Pantelleria, made on an island with the same name. Here, a grape variety called Zibibbo is air-dried and then fermented to produce a glorious sweet that is perfect to end a meal.
Finally, Marsala, a fortified wine, can be enjoyed both as an aperitif and a digestif. Marsala can be dry, semi-dry, or sweet, and is made from grapes with a high natural sugar content, like Grillo, Catarratto, and Inzolia. It’salso used a lot in Sicilian cooking.
If you are in love with Italian wine and yet haven’t given the Sicilians a chance, you should. There are a few of them available in India from producers like Donnafugata, Planeta, Tenuta Terre Nerre, and Passopisciaro, to name a few. Cin Cin.